Bold legislation will protect childrenSocial Development
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is introducing legislation with sweeping changes to protect vulnerable children and help them thrive.
More than fifty children have died in the last five years because of extreme abuse; we know many of their names.
“We’ve all had enough, it just has to stop,” says Mrs Bennett who launched the ten-year Children’s Action Plan last year.
The first Children’s Team is at work; we’ve expanded social workers in schools and hospitals, started homes for teen parents, increased funding and services for children in care and much more.
“Now we’re making major changes affecting thousands of New Zealanders.”
It starts with leadership; making the heads of five government departments accountable for protecting and improving the lives of vulnerable children.
Police, Justice and the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development will have new, legislated responsibilities.
“Do not underestimate the power of this. It will have a direct impact on every frontline worker in every one of those departments and policies will change.”
“When a 9 ½ year old was seriously abused in West Auckland, 25 agencies were involved; at least seven were government agencies. They weren’t co-ordinated and inaction from some contributed to allowing continued abuse.”
“If this law had existed, clear policies would’ve required frontline staff act differently by reporting abuse, taking action and focusing on the child.”
Child protection policies will also be adopted by the five agencies above and also Te Puni Kokiri, Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation, District Health Boards and school Boards of Trustees.
Screening and vetting of every person in the Government Children’s Workforce will be introduced and people with serious convictions will be permanently restricted from working closely with children.
“Anyone who comes into regular contact with children through their work is part of the children’s workforce and the community needs to be assured we’ve done everything possible to ensure children are safe.”
We anticipate other community organisations will voluntarily adopt the standardised screening and vetting processes.
Parents who seriously abuse or even kill children will have to prove they are safe to parent again; if they go on to have another child.
“Currently, the onus is on the State to prove that the abusive parent is unsafe, we are reversing that,” says Mrs Bennett.
This legislation also includes Child Harm Prevention Orders to be placed on adults who pose a serious risk to children.
“Someone who has committed a serious offence against a child should not be allowed near children.”
Finally, to allow vulnerable children to thrive, this legislation will mean Courts can curtail and define guardianship rights of birth parents in extreme cases.
Children removed from their parents due to severe abuse and neglect can be placed with Home for Life carers who can provide a safe, stable home.
“This change is aimed at vexatious and abusive parents who threaten the stability of children with Home For Life caregivers,” says Mrs Bennett.
It will stop those who seek to destabilise the new home with vexatious court proceedings, upsetting visits and sabotaged overseas holidays.
Mrs Bennett says all of these changes are about a better life for the most vulnerable children in New Zealand.
“The community signed up to this, New Zealanders asked us to take real action to make a difference. We’re doing exactly that,” says Mrs Bennett.
Legislation to be introduced later this month will be contained in an omnibus Bill, with two new standalone Acts and amendments to several other Acts.
For more information including Cabinet papers and fact sheets go to: www.childrensactionplan.govt.nz